FAHB: June 2015 Update

kiara.worth@gmail.com FAHB Updates 8 Comments

Over the past months, Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB) – working with the Hout Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association (HBRRA) – has been working towards finding a solution to the noxious smell from the Oceana fish factory. The issues are complex: while the economic value of the factory cannot be disputed, nor the importance of the jobs provided, we believe it is not right to have to endure a putrid stench that has a negative impact on the socio-economic environment of Hout Bay. As such, FAHB is not promoting that the factory be shut down, but rather that a solution be found to the odour. To do this we have been engaged in a range of activities, the details of which are provided here.

Engagement with the City of Cape Town

Between March and April 2015, a significant number of complaints were logged with the City of Cape Town about the smell from the fish factory, and the City conducted an investigation in response. The details were provided in an official letter which stated that, despite the acknowledgement of the stench, Oceana was operating within all legal parameters and the City would continue to vigilantly monitor the situation, considering any new odour abatement technology if it became available.

In response, HBRRA submitted two documents to the City in April 2015; comments to the Draft Air Quality Management By-Law, and a formal letter of complaint. The letter requested information on how to register the smell as a public nuisance, technicalities around the Atmospheric Emissions Licence, health implications of the smell, and a variety of other issues. The letter was responded to by a report submitted to Sub-Council 16, and was discussed at the meeting held in June 2015.

Over this same period, several important meetings took place. The City met with Oceana’s management in May, and planned to meet again in June. This meeting was subsequently cancelled and is scheduled for August 2015. HBRRA also met with the Mayoral Committee member for Health in June, upon request from Councillor Mamkeli. The meeting had the primary objective of understanding what the City is doing to address the issue and a further list of questions were submitted by HBRRA. The City has requested some tighter controls around the Atmospheric Emissions License, but there is as of yet no concise action that will eliminate the smell.

In the Media

These meetings were covered extensively in the media and you can read articles from the Cape Argus, Die Burger, and The Cape Times. Also check out our FAHB song ‘Lucky Star Ain’t What You Are’: In May 2015 well-known Hout Bay citizens from Hangberg and the valley joint forces in protest and recorded and filmed a song written by SA pop star Ike Moriz. Local musicians included Barry van Zyl (Johnny Clegg’s drummer), Roger Bashew (bass legend), guitar virtuoso Guy Collins (Hot Water), and Hangberg rapper Spike Parker (Peter Parker Michaels). Please visit our website for more links to media articles.

Engagement with Oceana

IMG_5163At the beginning of June 2015, an ‘explosion’ occurred at the factory early one morning – a large blast that woke people up, followed by plumes of smoke, the smell of fish, and a hole in the roof the next morning. After contacting Oceana, they stated it was not an ‘explosion’ but would provide more details on their blog. It has been one month and no further information has been received, with Oceana citing it will be made available once it has been submitted to the relevant authorities.

HBRRA has also been following up the proposed fish factory tour, as agreed to in the August 2014 meeting with Oceana. During this meeting Oceana insisted that none of its activities were ‘mysterious’ and they were willing to work with HBRRA to provide accurate information to the community. We agreed to a ‘fish factory tour’ where community-selected technical experts would be taken through the plant to verify that the odour abatement technology used meets international standards and best practice, as claimed.

We have been liaising with Oceana to arrange this and a number of issues have arisen. Oceana have insisted on conducting a “vetting process” for our selected technical experts (not stipulated in the original agreement), stating they need to verify the abilities of the experts in understanding the processes, despite their insistence of the “relative simplicity of the fishmeal process”. They have also refused to provide the Air Quality Reports and Atmospheric Emissions reports that HBRRA requested, stating this information would only be released to the selected technical experts after the vetting process, and through direct contact.

We believe this raises questions – if Oceana claims to be transparent and collaborative, why would they withhold vital information about their operations and seek to correspond directly with our technical experts? We have indicated this to them, and the need for the process to remain transparent and independent, but the situation remains the same. To demonstrate our own willingness to collaborate, we have agreed to share information about our technical experts at the relevant time, on the condition this does not influence the fish factory tour and that all communication be done through ourselves. We have additionally requested the documents through the Access to Information process directly with the City of Cape Town.

Appointing technical experts to understand the situation

We are currently in consultation with three technical experts experienced in air emissions and odour abatement technology. We anticipate they will participate in the fish factory tour as well as offer us advice about the current status of emissions from Oceana. No further organisation for the tour will take place until HBRRA have received the requested documents from the City of Cape Town and these have been reviewed by the experts.

What does this all mean?

To put it simply, we have no concrete answers at this stage. The City of Cape Town has insisted on tightening controls of the Atmospheric Emissions Licence, but we don’t believe this will have a significant change on the smell. While we continue to unpack legislation and understand the legal framework we need to operate in, we will continue to work with Oceana and the City to find a solution. We hope the meeting in August between Oceana and the City will bring some answers.

In the mean time, we need to increase support from the community and demonstrate the collective nature of our cause.

What can I do to help?

The most effective thing you can do is write a testimonial about how the smell negatively impacts you, your family or your business. To do this:

  • Complete an affidavit to register the smell as a public nuisance. Please provide as much detail as possible, while remaining truthful. Have the affidavit certified and send a copy to the organising team. (We know this is a tedious process and appreciate your help with this)
  • Sign our petition requesting the City to take stronger action
  • Register a complaint with the fish factory when you are impacted by the smell
  • Register on the Fresh Air for Hout Bay website
  • Support our social media

We will provide a further update at the end of July 2015 and please keep checking Fresh Air for Hout Bay’s website for more information or feel free to contact any of the organisers.

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Comments 8

  1. Gill Wells

    Thank you to all concerned for the huge amount of effort you are putting into this – let’s hope we have some positive results and some lovely fresh air to breathe in before too long.

    1. Post

      Thanks Gill! We appreciate your support and hopefully we’ll find a way to improve the lives of everyone in our beautiful town!

  2. georgina

    An acquaintance of ours who works for lucky star says that the smell is not so much from the emissions but from the holding tank where the fish is stored while waiting to be processed..is that possible and has that been looked into? Also, from what I understand, there is a fish processing plant at the v&a waterfront..they dont seem to emit any odours. .could they be looked to for ideas for odour management?

    1. Post

      Hi Georgina. Thanks for your contributions. We believe that the smell is predominantly from the emissions, but the holding tank could certainly play a part as well. We will be able to discuss this more with our technical experts once we have an understanding of the actual equipment being used – we’re still waiting on this information. As for the plant at the V&A Waterfront, according to the City of Cape Town, the factory doesn’t smell because they process a different kind of fish – the white fleshy fish as opposed to the heavy, oily (pelagic) fish in Hout Bay. We’re still trying to find out more information about this as well so we hope to update you soon. Thanks again for your contributions, much appreciated!

  3. Dr and Mrs J Silverman.

    We lodged a formal complaint to Oceana approx 2 to 3 years ago.
    A representative of the Dept. of the Environment came from Pretoria and explained that the factory was using the most advanced technology available and was compliant with all emission requirements. We strongly disagreed but could see as private individuals we would not be able to fight the company.
    Last year I had chemo therapy the nausea of which was compounded by the stench from the factory. I had to leave my home to recover!
    I now have respiratory problems which are aggrevated by what any standards have to constitute toxic emissions.
    I was wakened by the ‘explosion’ and hoped they had blown the fish meal boilers to bits. However the odours still persist.
    I will get an affidavit and support and appreciate your efforts.
    Thanks again,
    Jeff Silverman.

    1. Post

      Thank you Jeff and we’re sorry to hear about the negative implications the smell has had on you – if you could please document this in your affidavit that would be a great help. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as things progress.

  4. Peter Searll

    Thanks for all your sterling work on this! Is there a way we can further pressurise them to be transparent?

    1. Post

      Thanks Peter. At the moment the only thing we can do is make sure we remain transparent and call into question the actions as we see them happen. We do think the meeting between the City and Oceana will provide some answers and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the outcomes.

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